Marx’s career started with songs and it was these which made him
world-famous. Around 1910 he began branching out into choral and
chamber music, later to piano music and finally to the big orchestral
works of the 1920s. On this disc we have his songs for high voice
and orchestra. These comprise about half of his songs with orchestra.
We also get four of his six choral works, written between 1910
and 1914. The songs will be known to some, especially as sung
by Anna Maria Blasi on the second volume
of ASV’s Marx series, but these are
the first recordings of the choral works. These make the disc
an essential one for Marx fans - I won’t say Marxists.
The first, Barkarole,
is the longest; almost a vocal scena.
Ms Brewer sings this well, but does not get to its emotional
depths. More convincing is Zigeuner - this is one of her most convincing
characterizations on the disc. Selige
Nacht is a song that contains a lot of Marx’s personal
philosophy; it is among the half-dozen best he wrote. The performance
here is a little too measured for such a moving work. Marienlied
is another beautiful song. Its encapsulation of the spirit of
the poet Novalis is total and the song is beautifully orchestrated.
Here too I felt Ms. Brewer did not enter into the spirit of
things quite as much as possible, although the orchestra plays
beautifully, as they do in Waldseligkeit, another well-known song.
Ms. Brewer’s rendition of Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht is charming
and she is ably supported by Bělohlávek.
Maienblüten, another of Marx’s
best songs, is also very well done. Unfortunately, the Piemontesisches
Volkslied is overmiked. Completely
successful is the charming Ständchen.
The last song is Hat dich die liebe
berührt. This is another of the composer’s best songs,
but is handled here is a slightly overpowering way.
In the Herbstchor
an Pan we enter the world of Schreker
and Zemlinsky, but with a neo-classical tone and with more of
an evocation of mystery than even Schreker
usually achieves. In the opening section the interweaving of
the chorus and boys’ voices is especially notable. At the same
time one is amazed that this constitutes Marx’s first adult
orchestral work. The second section, actually describing Pan,
belongs to a different world - much starker, not languishing.
Perhaps most magnificent in the whole work is the middle of
this section, describing the wind and the forest. The use of
the orchestra is masterly, as is the composer’s manipulation
of bitonality. The third section continues the celebration of
nature, through a variety of moods and tonalities, and with
solo voices emerging beautifully from the chorus. A tenor solo
introduces the final section, followed by an orchestral reworking
of the work’s main themes. The chorus returns, accompanied by
organ, making way for an apotheosis both grandiose and touching,
leading to the joining of winter and spring. Both the choral
writing and the amazing orchestration make this work almost
unequalled among German-language choral works of the time. Its
neglect for all these years is criminal.
Morgengesang was written right before the Herbstchor an Pan, but it is more granitic and stately. For this reason one wishes it had been
presented with its original accompaniment of brass, organ and
timpani. However, the orchestration does not get in the way
of the thrilling opening fanfares or of the excellent development
of the opening material, especially in the third and fourth
verses, leading to a triumphant finale. Even more impressive
is the short Berghymnus, rediscovered
and orchestrated in 2005 by Marx stalwarts Esser
and Haydin. Although only two minutes long, the widespread harmonies
and complex choral writing seem to take us to the top of a mountain,
almost like a small and more touching Alpine Symphony.
During his lifetime, Marx’s best-known choral work was the Neujahrhymnus,
one of his very few works with a religious text, although the
composer wrote it himself. Esser and
Haydin have orchestrated the original
organ accompaniment in an effort to revive the work’s popularity.
Here I think it’s a wise step as one sees Marx moving towards
many of the harmonic characteristics of the later orchestral
works. The work also demonstrates the composer’s ability to
combine lyricism with formal control and this probably explains
its former popularity. The finale is even more thrilling than
that of the Morgengesang.
Christine Brewer does a good job with many of
the orchestral songs, but overall I would say that Angela Maria
Blasi on ASV (see review)
gives more ecstatic renditions of individual songs and shows
more variety when one takes the songs as a group. Bělohlávek
seems to follow her lead without livening things up when a little
help is needed, unlike Steven Sloane on ASV. However, when it
comes to the choral works Bělohlávek
truly understands the core of Marx - polyphonic flow and mastery
of stunning modulation. The orchestra is right with him and
the sound in the Maida Vale studios is clear. The various choral
groups are competent, but they have less understanding of the
polyphonic aspects of the music and sometimes descend into mushiness.
In this they are not helped by the acoustic of the Watford Colosseum,
which further muddies the sound. I would recommend purchase
of this disk, even if one has the disc with Ms. Blasi,
just for the choral works, which must count among the composer’s
most winning compositions and indeed occupy a unique place in
the choral repertoire.
see also Reviews
by Jonathan Woolf and Rob